Mike’s Picks: ‘Holiday’ and ‘Trapped’

Holiday

Criterion, Comedy, $29.95 DVD, $39.95 Blu-ray, NR.
Stars Katharine Hepburn, Cary Grant, Lew Ayres, Doris Nolan, Edward Everett Horton.
1938.
Adapted from a play Philip Barry wrote well before he concocted The Philadelphia Story, this comic portrait of the unapologetic rich featured one of the four pairings of Katharine Hebburn and Cary Grant. Hepburn is as full of herself as ever, but this time in charming ways against a story that makes one fully empathize with her character. And Grant, so soon after The Awful Truth “made” him, gets another chance to deliver on his burgeoning screen charm but against a less farcical backdrop.
Extras: The Blu-ray includes the 1930 version of the story. Also included are an often funny back-and-forth from critics Michael Sragow and Michael Schlesinger; excerpts from 1970-72 AFI interviews of director George Cukor; a costume photo tribute; and a welcome essay by Slate critic Dana Stevens.
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Trapped

Flicker Alley, Drama, $34.99 Blu-ray/DVD, NR.
Stars Lloyd Bridges, Barbara Payton, John Hoyt.
1949.
For a tawdry, if seductively so, minor melodrama that director Richard Fleischer apparently didn’t even mention in his memoirs despite early-career finesse with noir, Trapped is full of what genre enthusiasts, at least, would count as curio compensations.
Extras: The esteemed Alan Rode and the luminous Julie Kirgo offer a Blu-ray commentary.
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Trapped

BLU-RAY REVIEW:

Flicker Alley;
Drama;
$34.99 Blu-ray/DVD;
Not rated.
Stars Lloyd Bridges, Barbara Payton, John Hoyt.

For a tawdry, if seductively so, minor melodrama that director Richard Fleischer apparently didn’t even mention in his memoirs despite early-career finesse with noir, Trapped is full of what genre enthusiasts, at least, would count as curio compensations. At very least, for any academic who’s thinking of penning a thesis on Lloyd Bridges’ versatility or at least adaptability, this resourceful cheapie is from the actor’s early malevolent period that was and still is 20,000 fathoms away from “Sea Hunt,” the syndicated ’50s TV series in which Bridges spurred a lot more boomer males to don flipper footwear than Dustin Hoffman later did in The Graduate. And an even further distance away from Airplane!, though that’s something you can say about most movies.

Also for starters, it’s another in the delectable run of Eagle-Lion’s semi-documentary procedurals — all from the late ’40s, all touting the arduous crime-busting work of government agents and a film cycle generally more identified with Anthony Mann, who had a few more features on his resumé at the time than Fleischer but was roughly at the same point in his career. Both before and after, Fleischer made quite a B-noir name for himself ay RKO, though I never quite figured where the filmmakers’ girl-and-her-dog Banjo fit into the same-era equation.

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As for Eagle-Lion’s brand of noir, you know the drill: We begin with a government insignia on screen, followed by an on-screen real-life official or stolid actor/narrator (usually Reed Hadley but sometimes, as here, a Hadley wannabe) who talks up government worker cooperation as a key to apprehending felonious slugs. In this case, it’s the Secret Service pursuing counterfeiters, often with the benefit of location shooting because Eagle-Lion lacked cavernous sound stages — something that turned out to be a then-and-now bonus when it captured locales that now exist in different form. Trapped, however, is the only one of this ilk to feature Barbara Payton, which certainly makes it unique on the casting level (noir follow-up Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye, which teamed her memorably with the immediately post-White Heat James Cagney, was a much higher-profile Warner Bros. release).

Trapped was, in fact, Payton’s de facto screen debut, and despite the fact that she became the all-time poster child for how to deep-six your career in a blink with outlandish off-camera behavior, it shouldn’t be forgotten that she could really act and that the viewer’s eye (at least in 1949 and ’50, her presto/paput prime) automatically gravitated toward her whenever she entered a scene. I don’t think anyone was going to cast her in some new version of Vanity Fair, but in terms of film noir, she could play with the big kids. And in this case, she’s seen in cigarette-girl garb that almost looks tailored to her precise specifications — one that further helps attract an elderly nightclub patron who’s perceived to be a high roller (John Hoyt). All of this makes boyfriend Bridges jealous over the attraction.

But he’s also pragmatic. Bridges is just out of what Cagney used to term “the stir” — though the deal for his release has been predicated on his willingness to track down long unseen plates used to counterfeit money and to which he may still have access. We can’t tell at first whether Bridges is really going to go along with this all the way or eventually go rogue, but in any event, he thinks Hoyt’s green can give him what in a mining Western would be called a grubstake to operate. Unfortunately, the so-called associates with whom Bridges left the plates during his long visit to the Hotel Slammer aren’t what President Trump used to call “all the right people.” They operate like someone Tonya Harding’s husband might hire for a kneecap caper, except that they snivel too much.

Eventually, Bridges does go rogue, and there’s another surprise as well, which sets up a showcase for the actor to display a nasty side that pretty well defined his early screen career, something of which my childhood self was unaware of for a while. I remember as a kid watching him in “Sea Hunt” and then having my eyebrows raised by seeing how two-faced he was with hero Gary Cooper in High Noon the first time I saw it in 1959. This was quickly followed that same year by a viewing of Bridges’ truly psychotic turn in 1950’s Try and Get Me, a supremely powerful chunk of nastiness that the deservedly esteemed Alan Rode references a couple times on this Blu-ray’s commentary as culmination of Bridges’ persona in Trapped.

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His character here is definitely hot on the trigger, and there’s a convincing and not un-lengthy indoor fight scene involving Bridges that hasn’t too many edits and looks pretty close to the real deal. He’s a real presence here, and a lot of gas goes out of the picture when he basically disappears for filmmaking reasons that remain unclear. When the film showed on Turner Classic Movies a couple months ago, host Eddie (“Czar of Noir”) Muller could only speculate that Bridges might have caught a bad cold, an educated guess repeated by Rode here. Tightfisted Bryan Foy was Trapped’s producer, and he was just the kind of guy to barge on through with the cutting and pasting to make a bad-break vehicle “play” — somehow.

The mention of Muller and Rode (plus Flicker Alley as the Blu-ray distributor) is a tip-off that Trapped is the latest restored movie orphan by the dual godsends of their Film Noir foundation and the UCLA Film & Television Archive, which leads to one of the most important additional reasons the picture is of interest. I won’t say that the existing 16mm prints of the film were eyesores for the ages, but sometimes I wonder if they were responsible for my eventually needing cataract surgery. It was on the Foundation’s “wish list” without much hope of fulfillment until someone mentioned a pretty decent 35mm print that had been deposited at Harvard (presumably not in an archival Barbara Payton Collection). There are still blemishes to be seen, but the result is pretty stunning in before-and-after examples — the way that Edgar G. Ulmer’s Detour was in Criterion’s release of it last year. The latter starred Tom Neal, and if you know your Neal-Payton movie history, well … that’s another story and one of mutual destruction.

Rode’s commentary partner is the luminous Julie Kirgo — a good pairing (let’s see more) and the source of the factoid that Trapped didn’t even make Fleischer’s autobiography, which I’ve had in galleys for decades now but have never read (she says it’s one of the best). Also included along with Flicker Alley’s typically high-grade packaging — the quality of paper used for photo and poster reproductions is gloss-Y — is an interview with son Mark Fleischer, who seems like a good guy, plus a production look-back featuring Muller and more. Throughout, we catch tantalizing glimpses of L.A. geography from a long-gone time, as in The Man Who Cheated Himself (which previously got Film Foundation treatment), Without Warning and Kiss Me Deadly, to name three.

After a rough period with HUAC where he semi-cooperated, and not happily, with the Blacklist, Bridges kept at it with steady employment, most of it in TV, and became a steady working-actor while not doing too badly in the father department. Hailing from Cloquet, Minn., the same town as Jessica Lange, Payton didn’t have the same caliber of JL’s career or anything close. It’s well known that she descended into boozing and even prostitution before dying at 39, but in an attempt to be at least a little upbeat here, there’s a definite amusement factor thinking about her showing up on the Paramount lot amid a fling with the serially unfaithful Bob Hope (double standard here?) and spurring one of the studio’s two biggest stars to put out frantic emergency word to bar her from the lot. I wouldn’t be surprised to hear that this led to Dolores Hope, an early grad of the Camille Cosby School of Public Denial, to build an extra wing at the mansion to supplement any others as places of primary residence. (“But I just wanna say …”)

Mike’s Picks: ‘Holiday’ and ‘Trapped’

Mike’s Picks: ‘The Day of the Jackal’ and ‘The Man Who Cheated Himself’

The Day of the Jackal

Street 9/25/18
MVD/Arrow, Drama, $39.95 Blu-ray, ‘PG.’
Stars Edward Fox, Michael Lonsdale, Delphine Seyrig.
1973. Adapted from Frederick Forsyth’s fictional novel dealing with a paid assassin’s attempted 1962 assassination of French president Charles De Gaulle, an outstanding screenplay delineates a lot of complex material in ways that always keeps us up to snuff on what we’re seeing, and without any fuss.
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The Man Who Cheated Himself

Street 9/25/18
Flicker Alley, Mystery, $39.95 Blu-ray, NR.
Stars Lee J. Cobb, Jane Wyatt, John Dall, Lis Howard.
1950. The new Blu-ray of the nifty UCLA Film & Television Archive restoration of this indie noir produced by Jack L. Warner’s estranged son (Jack B.) showcases how director Felix E. Feist got everything there was to get out of his shoe leather and tire tread, and this picture is a veritable travelogue of vintage locations.
Extras: The Blu-ray includes a retrospective featurette and a terrific then-and-now look at this same shorelines and structures used in filming.
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The Man Who Cheated Himself

BLU-RAY REVIEW:

Street Date 9/25/18;
Flicker Alley;
Mystery;
$39.95 Blu-ray;
Not rated.
Stars Lee J. Cobb, Jane Wyatt, John Dall, Lisa Howard.

Folks familiar with The Man Who Cheated Himself often bring up its offbeat casting, though speaking as one who just recently fell into a YouTube clip of Lee J. Cobb as one of five singing-dancing personalities on an episode of “The Dean Martin Show,” I’m not irrevocably floored at seeing the then future Johnny Friendly taking on a romantic dimension in this indie noir produced by Jack L. Warner’s estranged son (Jack B.).

In other words, Cobb does get to wear a suit, puff on cigarettes at work (Cheated’s cool San Francisco locales aren’t the only thing that make it a period piece) and kiss a dame for whom he has an itch.

As for the dame … well, that casting is indeed something else. On the bonus look-back featurette included on Flicker Alley’s new Blu-ray of the nifty UCLA Film & Television Archive restoration, Eddie (“Czar of Noir”) Muller quotes Folsom Prison Blues to elucidate the character of this rich society type, who has caught Cobb’s eye, to say nothing of his libido. Which is to say that she shoots a man just to watch him die — even though it must be said that events transpire so quickly that it’s no slam-dunk to pinpoint her exact motive. Still, it’s messy, because she did indeed hate the victim in the first place. And he was her husband (messier still). And, cop boyfriend Cobb was in the room, even if it wouldn’t necessarily have been his preference (a full plate of lasagna tossed at the wall).

But getting back to the casting, this unholy wife — a description I’ll just lift from the title of 1957’s Rod Steiger-Diana Dors Technicolor potboiler — is played in atypically over-the-top fashion by, of all people, Jane Wyatt. And, yes: that Jane Wyatt — once of Lost Horizon but most memorably identified with the role she’d soon own: “perfect” mom Margaret Anderson on TV’s “Father Knows Best.” You can just hear her saying to the Anderson kids: “Well, before your father and I were married, I shot my first husband to death — though, actually, he was my second husband — and then a detective friend who was kind of sweet on me took charge of disposing the corpse.” This, at least, would answer the question of why not just Bud but all three Anderson offspring were so messed up (which I, for one, always thought was a great show’s secret weapon).

So, this is the Cheated premise, though there’s still one more wrinkle. New to the police force is an about-to-be-married rookie (John Dall, in more against-type casting) who is not just Cobb’s younger brother but one assigned to work alongside him. And the kid has so much aptitude when it comes to dissecting inconsistencies in a case that’s ironically under Cobb’s very jurisdiction that the older sibling doesn’t know quite what to do (he has enough problems as it is). In terms of a broad, barebones reading, the premise is not too dissimilar to the one in 1952’s Scandal Sheet (directed by Phil Karlson from Sam Fuller’s source novel) in which the editor of a New York rag kills his long-estranged wife and now must deal with a talented young reporter/protege of his who’s about two steps behind in cracking the case.

Actor Dall, of course, played a good guy at heart in Joseph H. Lewis’s classic Gun Crazy (bank knockoffs or not) — but there was something about him that seemed a little “off” in his craving for bad-girl wife Peggy Cummins. Turns out, per the Cheated bonus doc, that Lewis cast Dall because he was gay in real life, and Muller notes that the actor’s projected screen image was more in sync with his role in Hitchcock’s Rope — and, I might add, for his small role in Spartacus, where Dall’s unctuous Marcus Glabrus character sits with Laurence Olivier’s Crassus in the George Steinbrenner box seats as Kirk Douglas and Woody Strode prepare to fight to the death. In Cheated, Dall is decent enough at projecting rookie enthusiasm, and that’s a necessity in the role). Quite striking, though, is actress and future ABC news personality Lisa Howard, who plays his new bride. Though potentially stuck in a throwaway part, Howard is quietly but potently attractive as a kind of well-kempt bohemian that I’ll just bet was true to the period. Howard, who in real life apparently slept with Castro in pursuit of what became a big scoop at the time, was eventually fired by her network over other politically-related activities. Later, she took hundred or so pills in a parking lot, which immediately killed her at age 39. On a July 4th.

At the time of this film, Howard was married to its director (Felix E. Feist). The latter never had big bucks to work with, but even beyond teaming Nancy Reagan with a severed head in 1953’s Donovan’s Brain, he made some movies I like: this one; Deluge; The Threat, Tomorrow Is Another Day; and especially The Devil Thumbs a Ride. (The last is one of those movies, along with Dillinger, Born to Kill and Reservoir Dogs, to offer a guarantee that Lawrence Tierney, even if he were still alive, wouldn’t be starring in any fictional adaptation of Won’t You Be My Neighbor?). According to film historian Julie Kirgo — who’s interviewed here along with czar Muller, Feist’s son Raymond and recent Michael Curtiz biographer Alan Rode (who, along with Muller, is one of this disc’s four credited producers) — Feist only had something like five days of on-the-pavement location shooting in San Francisco. This is beyond amazing.

I’m always struck by the irony of how low-budget postwar filmmakers often had to shoot on the streets of out economic necessity — which is now one of the components that make those films look so vital today (D.O.A. is another that comes to mind). Meanwhile, the same era’s studio-bound noir from the majors looks like exactly that, as taxis make their ways down backlot streets that weren’t really that mean. In any event, Feist got everything there was to get out of his shoe leather and tire tread, and this picture is a veritable travelogue of vintage locations. And then, these visuals get punctuated by a terrific then-and-now bonus section look at this same shorelines and structures, including the buildings and especially corridors of formidably photogenic Fort Point near the Golden Gate Bridge. Vertigo fans will have a grand old time here.

Cheated is the latest baby from the Film Noir Foundation, which was also a major player in the rescue of Woman on the Run and Too Late for Tears before they became Flicker Alley Blu-ray releases as well. It, too, was a distribution “orphan” that fell through the preservation cracks; the younger Warner put it together for distribution by 20th Century-Fox, which apparently gave it somewhere between one and a smattering of year-end, 1950 bookings before putting it into general distribution in ’51. As a point of reference, it didn’t get to my hometown until the first week of May, where it got booked into the smallest downtown movie house — the one where the classier Republic Westerns played — in subordinate billing to Britain’s 7 Days to Noon, which had just taken an Oscar for best story.

That’s a pretty fair double bill — and certainly more enticing than what I saw listed for most of the summer on my neighborhood marquee. The print here is better than I ever anticipated, with big chunks of it nearly immaculate. I don’t know where the restorers are even finding these acceptable copies, which are then simonized to the hilt, but this is a laughably keen improvement over the Cheated atrocities that run on YouTube. And though I’ve never seen it on the old Alpha DVD, even the jacket on that one makes my eyes bleed.

Mike’s Picks: ‘The Day of the Jackal’ and ‘The Man Who Cheated Himself’